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HRDC Represents Former Illinois Prisoner in Wrongful Conviction Suit

Over the years, Prison Legal News and its parent non-profit organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), have filed dozens of censorship lawsuits against state prison systems and county jails, as well as numerous public records suits. [See: PLN, May 2015, p.12]. More recently, HRDC has represented the families of deceased prisoners in wrongful death complaints against corrections officials, and also represented a former prisoner who was pregnant and lost her baby due to inadequate medical care at a CCA-run jail. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.28].

HRDC has now begun taking wrongful conviction cases, partnering with the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy to represent former Illinois state prisoner Jermaine Walker.

Walker, 39, a student at Fisk University in Tennessee prior to his wrongful imprisonment, filed a federal civil rights action on July 7, 2016 that accused current and former Chicago police officers of beating and planting drugs on him during a February 2006 traffic stop. Walker, a PLN subscriber while incarcerated, filed for a Certificate of Innocence after Cook County Judge Catherine Haberkorn ordered his immediate release from prison in March 2016. He had served ten years.

The Certificate of Innocence was granted on April 27, 2016.

Walker’s lawsuit, filed by Loevy & Loevy in cooperation with HRDC, alleges that Michael White, Eric Reyes, Sebastian Flatley, Brian Daly, Thomas Finnelly, the City of Chicago, Cook County and other unidentified law enforcement officers from both jurisdictions violated his civil rights. According to the complaint, the defendants falsely accused Walker of dealing drugs, then offered perjured testimony and misleading photographs to obtain a wrongful conviction.

Walker, who steadfastly maintained his innocence, had stated at trial that there was a video surveillance camera in the alley where he was stopped by police officers, beaten and arrested. Both Chicago police officers and an investigator with the State’s Attorney’s office apparently conspired to conceal evidence that the video camera existed. Police officers White and Reyes denied knowledge of the camera, while the investigator, Finnelly, took photos of the alley that were framed to make it appear as if there were no camera in the alley. Based on that false testimony and evidence, Walker was convicted and sentenced to 22 years; he had previously refused a plea deal for one year in prison.

As a result of a later investigation by the Cook County Public Defender’s office, the officers’ and investigators’ testimony about the video camera in the alley was found to be incorrect. Two employees at the Lawrence House, where the camera was located, provided affidavits stating it provided live video footage to a worker at the front desk. The State’s Attorney eventually conceded that Walker had been telling the truth.

“It’s really outrageous that police officers and an officer of the State’s Attorney’s office swore under oath here and actually backed it up with photographs that didn’t even fit the relevant situation that we had in your case, and you know, on behalf of the entire system, I am so sorry that this has happened to you, and we hope that this, you know, does not ever happen again,” Judge Haberkorn told Walker, upon vacating his conviction at a hearing on March 25, 2016. She called the case a “miscarriage of justice.” [See: PLN, May 2016, p.16].

The complaint in Walker’s federal lawsuit included clear photos of the video surveillance camera in the alley as well as the photos taken by Finnelly and introduced by the prosecution at trial, in which no camera appeared. In light of the evidence indicating the lengths to which the defendants went to cover up their misconduct, Walker is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the decade he spent in prison for a crime that never occurred.

“As a result of his wrongful incarceration, Mr. Walker was stripped of the pleasures of basic human experience, from the most quotidian to the most important, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right,” his lawsuit states. “For ten years, he was unable to share holidays, births, funerals, and other life events with loved ones. He was deprived of the opportunity to work, to vote, and the fundamental freedom to live one’s life as an autonomous human being.”

HRDC has long reported on wrongful convictions, and we are pleased to have the ability to provide representation to prisoners who were wrongfully convicted and have had their convictions reversed due to police misconduct and fabricated evidence. We do not have the resources to represent prisoners who have not yet had their convictions reversed.

“What happened to Mr. Walker is typical and sadly common in a criminal justice system that pursues convictions at any cost, including perjury and fabricating evidence of guilt when none exists. We look forward to assisting Mr. Walker in obtaining the justice he has been denied,” stated HRDC executive director Paul Wright.

Asked about the time he served in prison following his wrongful conviction, Walker said, “Dreams were shattered man, no question.” In addition to his federal suit, he is pursuing a separate claim for statutory compensation. See: Walker v. White, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:16-cv-07024.

Additional source: Chicago Tribune

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Related legal case

Walker v. White